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Have Fickle UFC Fans Been Too Quick To Bury Brock Lesnar?

The former "Baddest Man on the Planet" after his loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121.
The former "Baddest Man on the Planet" after his loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121.

MMA is the definitive "extreme sport" and the UFC is the sports world's most "extreme" promotion. Edgy, up-to-the-minute, the latest, the greatest, the 21st Century short-attention-span-theater version of Roman gladiators, etc. etc. With that extremism comes an extremely intense emotional investment between fans and fighters. 

Many UFC fans don't just enjoy a good sporting contest between top-notch athletes, they invest a great deal of emotional energy identifying with their favorite fighters. When Brock Lesnar or Cain Velasquez or Fedor Emelianenko steps into the cage, he's not just representing himself, his team and family, he's also acting as a surrogate for the hopes of millions of fans who hope to share his triumphs.

The youth of the MMA fan base magnifies the issue because young men really get emotionally invested in the fighters they've chosen to admire. But all too often, when those fighters lose, those same fans quickly turn.

In the full entry we'll hear from some of the best and brightest pundits in all of MMA and a couple of guys who don't even write for Bloody Elbow too.


Brian Mayes at Head Kick Legend objects:

...what's even more interesting is the reaction from these same fans after the fight. Universally, it's been a mixture of shock that the fight went the way it did, and complete and utter dismissal of Lesnar. Fans are shocked that Lesnar went down the way he did, even though the fight looked much like Lesnar's last outing against Shane Carwin - he got dropped, hurt, and in general looked completely lost on the feet. But what's a bit disturbing is the reaction to Lesnar now. Literally overnight, he went from being an unstoppable force that could not be beaten to a bumbling buffoon worthy of being laughed at and scorned.

I think that really shows what fans are like - they love a guy when he's dominant and wins, and they love to hate on him when he loses. Just look at the absolute adoration fans had for Fedor, B.J. Penn and Lyoto Machida during their title reigns. As soon as they lost, they became yesterday's news. Fans don't want to acknowledge that losing is just a part of the fight game. Everyone loses at one point or another, some more than others. Fans should enjoy Brock Lesnar for what he is - an exciting fighter. Whether he's a dominant champion or just another guy in the heavyweight division, he deserves our respect. He goes out and puts on thrilling performances, no matter if he's the hammer or the nail. We should appreciate him for that, and not scorn him because he doesn't live up to our lofty expectations.

Derek Suboticki says Brock will be back:

I'm watching the Chicago-Washington game right now, and Jay Cutler is being Jay Cutler. He's talented, young and has a cannon for an arm, but he makes stupid decisions all the time and has been throwing picks left and right. It's been like that for the extent of his NFL career, and yet fans haven't said that he's done or he'll never learn or he'll never get better. Why? Because it's an insanely asinine and stupid thing to do.

Fighters evolve. Given physical tools and the desire to improve, athletes have shown the capacity to learn new skills, address previous weaknesses and excel anew. Randy Couture was buried after his second loss to Chuck Liddell, only to come back and recapture the heavyweight belt (and even defend it as an underdog to Gonzaga). Brock Lesnar has definitively shown that he has both the attributes necessary to compete in the highest levels of MMA and the desire necessary to utilize them - remember that this is a man that isn't fighting to feed his kids or pay alimony. Lesnar has all the money in the world if he wants to hang up his gloves and not get punched in the face anymore. He does this because he enjoys it. He'll continue to do this because he enjoys it.
One loss does not a career define. Brock is now 5-2, with wins over two UFC HW champions (three if you could Carwin's interim belt) and losses to two UFC HW champions. Bury his future at heavyweight at your own peril.

But it's important to distinguish between angry disappointed fans overreacting on a message boards and attempts by serious sports writers and commenters to analyze what happened. Here's an example: Ben Fowlkes has a more critical assessment of Lesnar:

Not to belittle what Lesnar has accomplished after coming to MMA relatively late in life, but it's hard not to feel like, either due to his physique or his background, Lesnar's hype got a little ahead of his skills.

Maybe we confused physical potential for actual ability and accomplishment. Maybe, as all things tend to do in the age of the internet, his career life cycle got too accelerated in the eyes of fans and the media. Or maybe he just took his opponent a little too lightly and got the beatdown that usually comes with that mistake.

Lesnar's plan against Velasquez seemed to be to bully him with size and power right out of the gates. If that plan sounds familiar, it's because that's more or less what Lesnar has tried to do to everyone he's fought. When you're an almost shockingly agile 270-pounder with college wrestling credentials, that's usually a pretty good strategy.

At least, it is until you run into someone with superior technique and enough ring savvy not to wilt under early pressure. Then charging across the cage without any set-up or strategy is a move that tells us you either think too much of your own ability or too little of your opponent's.

Our own Jonathan Snowden took some heat for this:

Brock Lesnar has all the tools to dominate UFC competition. He's physically overpowering, with strong wrestling and giant hands, tailor-made for clubbering. What he doesn't have is the heart of a warrior. That's not a critique of his value as a person. It's a natural reaction to cringe and defend when a huge fighter like Cain Velasquez is pummeling you. But it's not the right reaction for a man who wants to be the Ultimate Fighting champion.

For Lesnar, the weakness might not even be mental. It could be, like many promising fighters past and present, he just can't take the blows. Tonight he took a glancing blow from Velasquez, careened into his hip, then stumbled around the cage like a drunk at last call (or like Zab Judah after being knocked silly by Kosta Tszyu). It wasn't dignified, but it was certainly memorable.

That's serious analysis on the part of someone who is trying to understand and explain what we saw in the cage. Note my own incredible prescience in this pre-fight piece where I predicted exactly how Brock would lose the fight (please kindly disregard my official fight prediction that Lesnar would win):

Lesnar's recovery on the ground was incredible and showed great heart, grit and resilience, but the impression I came away from Lesnar vs Carwin was of a heavyweight champion who not only doesn't like getting hit hard in the face, he ducks and cowers.

Furthermore, Carwin never even landed a really clean shot on Lesnar's chin. It wasn't one of those "anyone would have been knocked out by that on the button punch" moments, it was a moment where Lesnar got a taste of Carwin's power and declined to have a second helping. That's a perfectly normal instinctive reaction, but it shows a certain mental vulnerability in a heavyweight champion.

When we here at Bloody Elbow and our illustrious colleagues at the exclusive academy of MMA sciences opine on the strengths and weaknesses of super-human monsters whose hands we would be afraid to shake in real life, it's not angry fans turning on their idols, oh no, it's practically science.

Now when Tim Sylvia says something like this, months before Brock Lesnar even had his first MMA fight, it's just sour grapes, via MMA Mania:

"I don't think he's going to have a future in MMA ... He's a baby. Don't kick him [because] he doesn't want to get hurt. He's a helluva wrestler and he's strong. But he can't punch and doesn't know how to kick. He can only go straight forward. He can't survive as just a takedown guy."

And when UFC president Dana White goes on ESPN and says this:

"People were saying to me, 'he's got to work on his striking.' His striking is fine when he's the one doing the punching. It's when he's getting hit is when his striking falls apart. And that's something he needs to work on. It takes time. This guy came from wrestling. These guys are (not) used to getting punched in the face."

I just don't know what to say. For shame Dana, for shame!

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